Best advice ever!
We literally stayed across the road from the original Din Tai Fung which we'd loved to have tried, but the queues were never ending and the fact that there's a billion branches everywhere else sort of made it less exciting (I know the original one is different, but still!). There's plenty of similar restaurants around the area, and we were recommended this one from our taxi driver who noted that the xiao long bao was very good (we later find out that their website is named thebestxiaolongbao.com!).
Hangzhou Soup Dumplings 杭州小籠湯包
Hot and Sour Soup
It's located across the road from CKS memorial hall so it was easy to plan, though we didn't expect such a big crowd during the early lunch hours on a weekday. There's menus to look through and order from and a takeaway section on the side to keep you interested while you wait though- and the assurance that the wait will definitely be less than the one at Din Tai Fung ;)
Because of the sheer volume of customers, service is quick and efficient- order before you get your table, there's a self-serve fridge of small side dishes to start you off but once you sit down, dishes are just about ready to be served.
Shredded Turnip Pie (Front) and Sweet Taro Pie (Background)
There's no particular order that food will come out in- these two pies arrived almost the instant we sat down as they're premade and stored out the front of the store near the takeaway section. We quite enjoy both of them, with a crispy layered outer pastry shell, and a tasty radish and taro filling.
Xiao Long Bao
The xiao long bao are surprisingly quick, and ridiculously hot and steamy when they arrive- the steam did not die down for quite a while! They're very beautiful, with each being uniformly shaped, with a thin, delicate wrapper and plenty of juice inside. Definitely enjoyable, but I probably wouldn't call it the best xiao long bao ever.
Crab Roe Xiao Long Bao
There's a variety of xiao long bao available on the menu, for those who are looking for something a little more exciting than your normal pork xiao long bao. The prices here are ridiculously cheap (especially when comparing to Sydney prices haha), so we don't hesitate to order the crab roe xiao long bao.
There's no mistake which steamer is the ordinary xiao long bao and which one is the crab roe, as the crab roe version arrives with a little bit of the yellow crab roe spilling out of the top. Tastewise, it's quite similar to the original one, with the crab roe imparting a more fishy kind of taste.
It's interesting that this was named a siaomai (dim sim) as it's definitely different from the type we're used to- it's more like a xiao long bao with a prawn placed at the top where the dumpling is supposed to be pleated together!
Steamed Vegetable and Pork Dumplings
The steamed vegetable and pork dumplings are a little different, with a slightly thicker skin and pleated like a dumpling. They're quite tasty, and we love how hot they are, just like all the other steamed dumplings here.
Spicy Stink Tofu
We'd yet to try the famous (or infamous depending on how you see it), Taiwanese stinky tofu, so we're curious to try this version. There's various different types of this dish, and the version they serve here is the steamed version. It comes as three small tofu cubes swimming in a pool of chilli oil, topped with mince like topping which carries most of the 'stinky' flavour.
Mixed Vegetable and Meat Potstickers
And since we ordered so many steamed dumplings, we had to even it out with some fried ones too. The potstickers are fried beautifully, presented with their perfect golden side face up. They're nice and crispy, but also soft and delicate on the other sides.
Marinated Beef Wrap
The marinated beef wrap is Taiwanese specialty we haven't come across before- a thin scallion pancake, wrapped with beef shank, cucumber and shallots inside. Sort of like Peking Duck pancakes, except with beef instead of duck and a different wrapper. We're huge fans of scallion pancakes, so it's no surprise that we really enjoy these wraps!
Spicy Bean Noodles
We wanted to try their side dishes so we ordered these spicy bean noodles (炸醬麵) to share. It's a small serve size, perhaps not designed for sharing, and doesn't seem to fit in with all the other things we've ordered in this meal either. Nevertheless, it's a very tasty dish, with the sauce in the pork mince topping being quite salty from the beans, which works quite well once mixed in with the noodles, cucumber and other blander components of this dish.
Red Bean Pancake
And of course we had to finish of with a dessert of some sort! The red bean pancake is funnily enough shaped like a pancake (we're more used to the rectangular shaped ones!). We love the sesame topping which adds a little crunch to the pancake, though we're more of a fan of the fried and layered versions that we're used to.
Smoothie House 思慕昔
Speaking of desserts, I must introduce you guys to Smoothie House!!! The best dessert place that ever existed!
The Asian tour books, online blogs and basically everything that I read about Taipei had some sort of mention of this magical dessert place, and being right on Yongkang street there was no way we couldn't try it. Or so I thought until I realised the people I was travelling with weren't into desserts, and a couple of small issues meant that we walked past it about two or three times without actually going in.
But we did eventually make it, and boy were we glad we did- it might look just like shaved ice, but it is the most amazing shaved ice ever! The menu consists of about 10 or so different shaved ices- which come with different flavoured fruits and a topping of ice cream or pudding. I almost ordered something else as my Chinese pronunciation isn't terribly accurate (the guy at the counter thought I was saying number 4 instead of number 10 haha) but did eventually manage to get my mango shaved ice!
In terms of flavour, we were divided when it came to the flavour we enjoyed best- half of us liked the mango, the other liked the strawberry. Both fruits were amazingly fresh, and the syrups and ice cream that came with it weren't overly sweet or fake either.
The best part though was definitely the shaved ice- I've had shaved ice, both here in Australia and in HK before, but nothing compares to this. It's the softest thing ever, with the layers being ever so thin and delicate (I'd say 'melt in mouth' except you could always say that about any ice dessert!). I'd almost say it felt fluffy when you put it in your mouth, only to vanish into liquid the next second.
My friend had recommended this mango and passionfruit drink also, but this was only available from the proper restaurant upstairs (the downstairs area is more like a takeaway joint with a few bar-like seats) so we trekked up (any exercise during holidays is a struggle), and waited forever to get it. It was nice- definitely something different, sort of like the mango dessert in a cup, but I did enjoy the mango dessert much more!
Yongkang Beef Noodle 永康牛肉麺館
And I saved the best for last!!
The others weren't too keen on trying it at first because it was a bit of a walk, being at the end of one of the side streets to Yongkang, especially as there were so many tempting things to eat on already. I eventually did manage to persuade them to make the walk through the dark and lonely street, and we're glad we did! If you're wondering why this post doesn't contain more restaurants, despite us visiting Yongkang Street some 4 or so times in the couple of days we stayed- this restaurant is the reason. We tried this and we couldn't stop coming back!!
There's a little bit of a wait sometimes, but when it gets busy, they also open their second level so it's not much of an issue. Food is served amazingly quickly, even when they have a full house which was great as we were pretty hungry on the few occasions we visited!
We were there for the beef noodle of course, but couldn't help noticing that almost every table always ordered a side of the steamed pork ribs rice (粉蒸排骨) as well, which came packed in a curious steamer. There's quite a lot in the small steamer, so it's great for sharing with tasty pork ribs being the main focus of the dish, sort of coated by a some broken rice. There was also quite a strong taste of cooking wine in the dish, which made it very fragrant!
Wontons in Chilli Oil
The wontons in chilli oil are extremely soft and delicate and they filling is quite tasty itself. We're a little disappointed that the chilli oil isn't as strong in flavour as we'd like- it's quite spicy but lacks a little complexity in flavour.
Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup with (Half Beef and Half Tendons)
And the reason why we're here and why we just keep coming back- the beef noodle soup! It comes in two main varieties- all beef, or half beef and half tendons. Initially, we ordered the half half version, as we quite like tendons and they're usually more tender than beef, but we realise the beef served here is also incredibly tender anyway, without losing the slight chew and taste of meat!
The noodles are thick and chewy, quite unlike any other noodle I've tasted- it's so good I could easily just get a bowl of noodles in soup and be quite content with my meal. But it's really the soup base which makes this noodle dish so amazing- it's amazingly flavoursome (you can probably tell just by looking at the colour of it) in an indescribable way. If you're ever around in Taipei, definitely make the time to check out this place!